East Africa Is the New Epicenter of America's Shadow War
* By Spencer Ackerman
* Email Author <mailto:spencerackerman_at_gmail.com>
* January 26, 2012 |
* 6:30 am |
When Adm. Eric Olson, the former leader of U.S. Special Operations Command,
wanted to explain where his forces were going, he would show audiences a
photo that NASA took, titled "
=1&tbnh=100&tbnw=200&start=0&ndsp=15&ved=1t:429,r:1,s:0> The World at
Night." The lit areas showed the governed, stable, orderly parts of the
planet. The areas without lights were the danger zones - the impoverished,
the power vacuums, the places overrun with militants that prompted the
attention of elite U.S. troops. And few places were darker, in Olson's eyes,
than East Africa.
Quietly, and especially over the last two to three years, special operations
forces have focused on that very shadowy spot on NASA's map (see below). The
successful Tuesday night raid to free two humanitarian aid workers from
in Somalia is only the most recent and high-profile example. More and more
elite forces have transited through a mega-base in Djibouti that's a staging
ground for strikes on al-Qaida allies in the Horn of Africa, especially in
It's not quite the new Pakistan, or even the new Yemen, but it's close -
especially as new bases for the U.S.'s Shadow Wars pop up and expand. The
U.S. military sometimes seemed like it was casting about for a reason to set
up shop in Africa. Counterterrorism has given it one.
Fighting Somalia's pirates might get most of the media attention. But the
U.S. is much more concerned about al-Shabab. The al-Qaida aligned movement
seeks to depose the Somali government, recruits from
cant-rap/> radicalized American Muslims and may have sought to
01128> bring terrorism back to U.S. shores. Just across a very narrow Gulf
of Aden is Yemen, the home of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which has
igned-to-be-undetectable/> tried to attack America.
In 2009, the top U.S. intelligence official pointed to Yemen and "parts of
Africa" where al-Qaida's leadership might "relocate" if it lost its
Pakistani safe haven, to "
timonies/20090212_testimony.pdf> exploit a weak central government and close
proximity to established recruitment, fundraising, and facilitation
networks." His successor told Congress in 2011 that al-Shabab would "
ting-stronger/> probably grow stronger. absent more effective and sustained
activities to disrupt them."
That's where the forces Olson used to run came in.
Located northwest of Somalia is a former French Foreign Legion base in
Djibouti called Camp Lemonnier. The U.S. military has been there for a
decade. It's a resupply point for U.S. ships passing by, as well as the home
of a multinational, American-led counterterrorism team called the
> Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.
Recently, more and more special operations forces have called it a temporary
home. Camp Lemonnier was where the commando team took hostages Jessica
Buchanan and Poul Thisted for medical care after freeing them. But the camp
is much more than just a big medical facility: it's also a staging ground
for the growing Shadow War in Somalia - and particularly a drone war over
Much of the day-to-day fight against al-Shabab is
rced-somalia-war/> outsourced to African peacekeepers. But the raids and
strikes that U.S. commandos have launched against specific Shabab targets
are becoming <http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/10/new-somalia-attack/
Cruise missiles and even, apparently,
_strikes_shabaab.php> U.S. helicopter strikes have also hit the group.
Special operators even launch raids at sea: this spring, they captured
captured one Shabab affiliate, Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, offshore in the
Gulf of Aden before
> detaining him for
weeks aboard the U.S.S. Boxer.
Then comes the drone war. Lemonnier isn't the only U.S. base near the Horn.
Throughout the last decade, the military ran a
special-operations base in Kenya and
> another in
Ethiopia. Now an Ethiopian outpost
> will become a
launchpad for U.S. drones, as will a facility nearby in the Seychelles, all
to launch strikes against al-Qaida allies in East Africa. The most recent of
somalia> Sunday outside Mogadishu, killing a British-born militant.
Nor is the military the only U.S. organization at work in east Africa.
Somalia has attracted the CIA as well, which
> runs a
secret prison attached to the Mogadishu airport. During earlier iterations
of the CIA's post-9/11 involvement in Somalia, it blustered that its
operations were protected by
> drones that
actually weren't overhead - all while it assembled a coalition of friendly
warlords to help fight al-Qaida. Nor has the FBI been left out of the
action: it worked with the special operations forces to free Buchanan and
Thisted on Tuesday night, although Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon
spokesman, said no FBI personnel accompanied the raiding team.
Another dramatic expansion of U.S. power in Africa, however, may have been
hiding in plain sight.
When President George W. Bush created the U.S. Africa Command in 2007, it
wasn't really clear what the organization was. Humanitarian aid dispensary?
Laboratory for African troops to train with their U.S. counterparts? Vehicle
for Americanization of Africa's wars?
The question hasn't totally been settled. But Africa Command has had a very
busy year. In March, it led the initial phase of the U.S./NATO war on
Moammar Gadhafi, launching a
of Tomahawk missiles, flew
-gets-remixed-for-libya/?pid=379> jamming jets and operated
-gets-remixed-for-libya/?pid=378> conventional ships, subs and fighter jets
before handing the war off to a Canadian general. In October, it sent a
an-rape-cult-ready/> small advisory force to central Africa to help combat
the brutal Lord's Resistance Army.
Its leader, Army Gen. Carter Ham, hasn't been in charge for a full year yet,
but his busy schedule thus far was capped by last night's Somalia raid - for
which he was the senior-most officer in command, according to the Pentagon.
The raid is a sign that Africa Command places great emphasis on its
relationship with the U.S.' elite forces, who, tacitly, help entrench the
That's going to remain the case as long as a
> decimated al-Qaida
relies on proxies like al-Shabab to retain its own relevance. And it's going
to remain the case as long as Obama leans on special operators and the CIA
to prosecute his Shadow Wars, which
pursue terrorists indefinitely even while Obama draws down the large land
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When looking at where counterterrorism goes
next, it helps to squint at the obscured places on Olson's map.
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Received on Thu Jan 26 2012 - 09:57:45 EST